Tropical storm Ida intensified as it swirled toward a strike on Cuba Friday, showing hallmarks of a rare, rapidly intensifying storm that could speed across warm Gulf waters and slam into Louisiana as a major hurricane on Sunday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned.
“The forecast track has it headed straight towards New Orleans. Not good,” said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Jim Kossin, a climate and hurricane scientist.
Ida posed a relatively low threat to tobacco-rich western Cuba, where forecasters predicted a glancing blow on Friday. The real danger begins over the Gulf, where forecasts were aligned in predicting Ida will strengthen very quickly into a major hurricane before landfall in the area of the Mississippi River delta late Sunday or early Monday, experts said.
“Ida certainly has the potential to be very bad,” said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami. “It will be moving quickly, so the trek across the Gulf from Cuba to Louisiana will only take 1.5 days.”
Friday morning, Ida’s maximum sustained winds swiftly rose from 75 km/h to 95 km/h as it moved away from Grand Cayman toward Cuba’s Isle of Youth at about 24 km/h. Tropical storm-force winds extended as far as 130 kilometres from the centre.
Hurricane watch posted
A hurricane watch was issued for New Orleans and a state of emergency declared for all of Louisiana.
“Unfortunately, all of Louisiana’s coastline is currently in the forecast cone for tropical storm Ida, which is strengthening and could come ashore in Louisiana as a major hurricane as Gulf conditions are conducive for rapid intensification,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“By Saturday evening, everyone should be in the location where they intend to ride out the storm.”
A hurricane watch was in effect from Cameron, Louisiana, to the Mississippi-Alabama border — including Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and metropolitan New Orleans.
Dangerous storm surge was also possible for the Gulf Coast. Depending on the tide as Ida approached the coast, 2.1 to 3.4 metres of storm surge was forecast from Morgan City, La., to Ocean Springs, Miss.
“There is an increasing risk of life-threatening storm surge, damaging hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall Sunday and Monday, especially along the coast of Louisiana,” the hurricane centre said.
The mayor of Grand Isle, a Louisiana town on a narrow barrier island in the Gulf, said a voluntary evacuation late Thursday would become mandatory on Friday.
The storm was forecast to drop anywhere from 15 to 30 centimetres of rain over parts of Jamaica, Cuba and the Cayman Islands, with the potential for more in some isolated areas.
Forecasters warned of possible flash floods and mudslides and tidal storm surge of as much as 60 to 120 centimetres above normal, along with “large and destructive waves.”